What I don’t know about cyber security could fill like 72 1-terabyte hard drives.
Well, I guess now, after a recent Pfister event, you can make that 71 ½.
I was recently able to slightly fill in my cyber security knowledge gap because of my visit with the whip smart wags attending the 1st Annual CypherCon which recently kicked off in the Pfister’s Imperial Ballroom.
CypherCon was a chance for men (a lot of men) and women (a lot fewer woman) with a passion for hacking and security and international espionage (as opposed to lions and tigers and bears, of course) to come together, rub elbows, and, as far as I can tell, figure out ways to protect the world at large from imminent cyber attacks and general tomfoolery that’s way beyond any “I’m a Nigerian prince and I need you to help me cash a check for $1 Million dollars” email scam.
I’ll admit that I’ve always sort of dreamed about going to a “Con” event. I’ve wondered what it might be like to be in the middle of a group of people following a certain mania, maybe even in costumes, when I’m just a guy who sort of blows in the mind. So, when CypherCon’s organizer Michael reached out to me, I was pretty excited. My baseline understanding of the thrust of CypherCon was that it would be a chance for computer hackers to share some good stories over beers. I’m aging myself for sure by saying this, but I had visions of a WAR GAMES movie marathon at some point during CypherCon.
When I arrived at CypherCon, I received some snazzy press credentials and a green blinking gear-shaped pendant to wear around my neck. The pendant was embedded with blinking lights powered by a battery that functioned as sort of a code to crack…a good indicator of how CypherCon was going to go down for the hundreds of people who showed up for this inaugural event. At CypherCon the best position to take to be on your game was on your toes.
I entered the Imperial Ballroom to discover a guest speaker talking with gravitas and authority about China. Oh, China. China, China, China. China has it going in terms of cyber sleuthing. And possibly, cyber attacking. The audience sat rapt listening to how our friends from the East are smarty-pants beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
That tipped me off to something. I was surrounded by smarty-pants. I headed off to a side room where I found displays of gadgets and gizmos that some of these smarty-pants had invented in their spare time. I started up a conversation with a nice couple named Kevin and Margie who were showcasing a series of whiz-bang inventions for sale.
One of the items let you simulate playing video games with things as random as a banana. Another collection of wires and metal was capable of capturing credit card information, even though to my eye it looked sort of like a cheap pile of aluminum. I laughed, saying to Kevin and Margie, “I guess I better hold onto my wallet around you folks.”
Kevin grinned. Margie shrugged her shoulders. They looked at me silently, those big brains of theirs clearly at work. I tried to slyly slip my hand into the rear pocket of my slacks to kept my pigskin billfold well protected. You can’t trust nice looking people from the suburbs with superior intellect and soldering irons, you know.
It was at that point that I almost literally ran into a spy. Well, I’ll call Werner a spy because I think he’s earned plenty of rights to hang that shingle. When you ask Werner what he did for a living back many years ago, he has a slightly different answer.
“I was involved in authorized espionage.”
In other words, Werner was a big, old spy.
Werner explained that he was going to be telling his story to the CypherCon attendees the next day at the absolute perfect spot for spy stories: The Safe House. But I wanted his nutshell story, so Werner launched into his career highlights. 1955. G2 Military clearance. Fluent in four languages. Sentenced to 13 years in a Soviet prison. You know…your garden variety “authorized espionage” stuff.
I’m the type of guy who really hopes to have what I call “movie” moments in my life. I sensed I could probably get one of those to come true with Werner, so I pitched him some sensitive questions, knowing that there was really only one classic question Werner could offer in response. The spy who I loved for a few minutes at the Pfister one night did not disappoint. With a raised eyebrow after I asked about top-secret documents and intelligence, Werner pulled me close and gave it to me perfectly, making me tingle like I was in a Bond film.
“I’d tell you. But, of course, if I did, I’d have to kill you.”
Werner wasn’t the only one killing that night, however. I bid my new spy guy pal adieu and took in a bit of a presentation on #infosec by a dynamic duo by the name of Johnny Xmas and Lesley Carhart. Johnny and Lesley were making a compelling point for the audience that getting out into the world at large to talk about cyber security is a good thing to do—breaking beyond the echo chamber to warm the hearts and minds of all the regular folk about the importance of addressing cyber security in appropriate terms. They had charm, wit and plenty of humor in their presentation. But the thing that really made me a fan of their shtick and a believer in the importance of understanding that protecting data is a good thing, was a charming little intro to their presentation. Fiddling with a computer, Johnny and Lesley reminded me that hackers are cut from many cloths, be they of the cyber realm or ones like me who string a couple of words together to tell tales. I could have uttered the same words that tech savvy Johhny and Lesley did as they opened their presentation by saying, “Hey, anybody know how to start a PowerPoint?”
Well played, CypherConers. Now keep away from my wallet, please.
Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.